Managing Expectations

We all know about managing customer expectations, but what about your team?

Now it’s holiday season, it might be a good time to review your staff leave policies for the next 12-24 months. COVID has been a roller coaster for many business owners and staff alike. However it’s never been more important to manage expectations regarding staff leave than ever. Providing clear guidelines on leave policy is an easy way to reinforce your business’s culture.

If you are okay with making your leave policy public, this can assist prospective new employees in deciding if you are a good cultural fit for each other. If you consider your leave policy to be sensitive, communicate internally and share your leave policy as part of the hiring process.

I remember one employer that I was working with a fair while ago had trouble hiring computer technicians. During that time there was a shortage of suitable technicians for their budget. They went through many candidates and finally got someone they were more than happy with. The relationship was very positive and they were becoming a star employee.

Until there was an issue with a leave request. The employee wanted to take time off in a particular timeframe. The employer said, “No, we are too busy. We have a backlog and you just started.” This conversation didn’t go any further until pretty much two weeks before this person wanted to take leave, they gave their notice and away they went. So, what went wrong here? Effectively not setting expectations at the interview stage and there was no leave policy in place.

Consider all the effort the employer spent trying to find a new employee in a competitive employment market. They found the right person, but were not clear on their expectations. In hindsight it may have been a minor issue to the employer but was a major issue for the employee. The key thing with managing staff leave expectations is to make sure you have alignment.


As you start to re-hire or re-engage staff create a checklist of your expectations and make sure you cover these items in the onboarding or interview process. Start with a leave policy making sure the process to apply for leave and the timeframes are clear. Don’t assume your team members have read the policy once and remembered it. A monthly e-mail or discussion point in team meetings to keep it top of mind works best.

Create a leave calendar of acceptable leave zones, use colours to highlight preferred months. If you have high customer demand such as Christmas and Easter breaks. You may consider leave lockout zones or limiting leave numbers. If you are a retailer, you are not going to let staff go on holiday in the lead up to Christmas. However, after Christmas, when things have quietened down in January, February, March, they are ideal times to encourage leave.

If you have a family-friendly policy, you need to consider the school holidays. Not only that, consider the bonus holidays in your leave plan. Christmas and Easter is a time where employees can take just two or three days and actually get two weeks off. Set the expectations early, but more importantly, have the conversation. Planning your leave calendar 12-24 months ahead is a great way to manage leave expectations.

Managing staff leave will reduce the potential for employee burn out and may even highlight issues you’re not be aware of. Consider an employee who has not taken leave for over a year and has nothing booked. Are they planning to move on? Overworked or struggling with the role or under some other stress or leave banking? An informal conversation may highlight a HR issue you’re not aware of.

Finally create a review process for the exceptions, because there are always exceptions. The leave plan is not set in stone, but an ongoing guideline to manage employee and employer expectations. It allows an effective way to handle the unknown and give you time to prepare. Managing staff leave is an ongoing reinforcement of the culture within your organisation and will improve employee morale when managing expectations early.